Envisioning Baltimore's greener future

HAVING YOUR SAY

June 02, 2008|By Kevin Zeese and Linda Schade

Baltimore's thousands of abandoned homes are a blight - but also an opportunity to create neighborhoods full of green buildings that are efficient and produce solar or geothermal energy. The city's abandoned industries are a sign of decay - or a source of rooftops that could be turned into massive solar energy producers and retrofitted into green manufacturing.

Is it time for Baltimore to "go green" in a big way? The Baltimore Sustainability Commission thinks so, and it's not alone. The commission's first public meeting was held last week with a standing room only crowd.

Baltimore may be on the path to putting in place a green plan that will not only create a more healthy and livable city but may be the best opportunity for Baltimore to create a new economy that can ameliorate its chronic urban problems.

Deindustrialization hit Baltimore especially hard. But in recent years the city has been bouncing back. A November report by the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore found that Baltimore is part of an emerging knowledge-based economy that ranks among the most prosperous regions in the country.

Now Baltimore is on the verge of developing a premier sustainability initiative that could put it on the cutting edge of the new green economy of the 21st century. And it may be just in time. Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain agree on the need to create the green jobs that will be necessary to adjust to climate change. For the first time, a federal bill was passed funding a green jobs initiative.

Private investors are ahead of the government in investing in the new energy economy. Investment in green industry is now more than $117 billion and rapidly growing. Four clean-energy technologies (solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuels) are projected to increase fourfold from $40 billion in 2005 to $167 billion within the coming decade. Investment in green initiatives is also gaining ground in philanthropy as well as at colleges, including the Johns Hopkins University.

If the Sustainability Commission produces a cutting-edge plan, Baltimore will attract green investment and put in place a new economy that could reverse the downward cycles of previous decades. The commission is also seeking to have people, businesses, philanthropic communities and other institutions involved in the process. Anyone who wants to participate in the working groups is welcome. This open, transparent process is the right approach, as it is going to take all of Baltimore to create this new economy.

Baltimore is known as a gritty, crime-ridden city. If it can transform into a green, livable city it will demonstrate that all cities can do so. Some of Baltimore's most challenging urban problems become advantages in a green economy, as the examples above show.

Green Baltimore will create jobs at all levels: researchers and academics at universities, officers and workers in green industry, trainers and tradesman developing green housing. The potential before us to lift up people and communities is vast and unmatched since the Industrial Revolution, when Baltimore became a leading manufacturing city.

Many cities and states are trying to become green leaders because they see the economic and lifestyle opportunities. Baltimore, if it is going to lead in this area, needs to demonstrate its intent in a serious fashion. Last week, the Baltimore Sustainability Commission took the first steps to doing so.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kevin Zeese and Linda Schade are directors of the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics in Baltimore (www.freshaircleanpolitics.net).

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